Winter is a pivotal season. It’s often a turning point for those who’ve been dragging their feet about making healthier choices, like moving more and eating healthier. That’s why, each year, U.S. News & World Report evaluates the most popular diets, and ranks them by category. The folks create a sort of hierarchy of meal plans, delineating which are best for overall health and body-fat maintenance, which are best suited for quick weight loss, and more.
For 2022, the Mediterranean diet reigned supreme (as it has for many years), ranking no.1 in the best diets overall. If you’re trying to lose weight and optimize your health, check out the top nutrition plans—including what each entails—below.
Best Diets Overall
- Mediterranean Diet
The goal: Melt fat and avoid chronic diseases, like cancer and diabetes.
Pros: You can enjoy poultry, eggs, cheese, and yogurt in moderation; eat sweets and red meat on special occasions; and have red wine with your fruits, veggies, whole grains, beans, nuts, legumes, olive oil, and seafood. There’s a plethora of research backing up this diet.
Cons: You have to be accountable for figuring out calorie consumption to lose or maintain your weight, as well as your workouts.
- DASH Diet
The goal: The Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension eating plan does what its name suggests: helps lower high blood pressure and encourages weight loss.
Pros: It’s straightforward. Eat more fruits, vegetables, whole grains, lean proteins, and low-fat dairy; eat less red meat, salt, and high-calorie sweets. Plus, The National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute offers free guides.
Cons: You might not lose as much weight as you would on other plans because it’s more catered to improving your health (not necessarily a bad thing).
- Flexitarian Diet
The goal: Cut fat and live longer with optimal health.
Pros: It’s said “flexitarians” (flexible vegetarians) weigh 15 percent less than meat-eaters, live nearly 4 years longer, and can dodge heart disease, diabetes, and cancer.
Cons: If you’re hell-bent on eating beef, this might be difficult to adhere to. You’ll also be cooking a lot of your own meals.
Best Weight-Loss Diets
- Flexitarian Diet
- Volumetrics Diet
The goal: Drop 1-2 pounds per week.
Pros: Created by a Penn State University nutrition professor, Volumetrics is more of an approach to healthy eating than a regimented diet. You’ll learn to identify and prioritize low-density foods, which are low in calories but high in volume (think: broth) to help you stay full. It’s also affordable, since you’re not purchasing a book, program, or special ingredients. You won’t feel hungry or starved either.
Cons: This might be easier to stray from because you have more freedom.
- Weight Watchers Diet
The goal: Lose 2 pounds a week.
Pros: The meal plan’s flexible; you have access to a support group; and there aren’t hard limits on what you can and can’t eat. You’ll simply opt for the most nutritionally dense foods that keep you fuller longer. (i.e. your meals will be lower in calories, saturated fat, and sugar, and higher in protein.)
Cons: It can get a bit pricey, and tallying your meal points is a pain.
Best Fast Weight-Loss Diets
- Atkins Diet
The goal: The diet has four phases. You cut carbs, then eat progressively more until you hit your desired weight. Low-carb diets force your body to burn fat as an alternative source of fuel.
Pros: Protein and fat take longer than carbs to digest, so you’ll stay full on the diet. You’ll see weight loss fairly quickly (even if it’s initially due to water loss).
Cons: It’s difficult to maintain in the long run. People struggle with getting variety in meals and eating out is difficult.
- Health Management Resources (HMR)
The goal: Drop 1 to 2 pounds per week for an average of 23 pounds over the first 12 weeks; keeping the weight off is a main priority.
Pros: The crux of this diet is meal replacement, which is said to help people cut 3x as much weight compared to traditional diets. You’ll have low-calorie shakes, meals, nutrition bars, multigrain hot cereal, and fruits and vegetables in place of other meals and snacks. You’ll also receive food for the first 3 weeks to drop weight as quickly as possible; then, you’ll transition to the second phase where the diet is less structured and you’ll receive food monthly, as well as weekly telephone coaching sessions.
Cons: The first phase can be difficult to adhere to. It’s a tad expensive, especially if you’re not used to buying fruits and vegetables in bulk. The initial 3-week HMR starter kit costs $301 and the 2-week reorder kit costs $185.
The goal: Like most weight-loss diets, OPTAVIA relies on a low-carb, low-calorie approach to cut weight quickly with most of the vitamins, minerals, and fiber coming from fortified, pre-made meal replacements, coined “fuelings.” This calorie restriction diet also centers around six “Habits of Health Transformational System”: weight, eating and hydration, motion, sleep, mind, and surroundings.
Pros: This is a variation of the Medifast diet. The “fuelings” meals have an identical macronutrient profile, only they’re void of artificial colors, flavors, and sweeteners. You’ll eat four to five prepackaged meals, then cook your own low-carb meal, prioritizing fatty fish twice a week. You’ll be matched with a coach who can provide support, too.
Cons: You may feel hungry on the diet and won’t get the full micronutrients you’d receive from a whole-food diet.
- Keto Diet
The goal: Quickly lose weight by causing your body to burn fat versus carbs, entering a state of ketosis.
Pros: You’ll eventually have fewer craving and boost mood and energy, though it’s a tough transition at first.
Cons: You can experience headaches, fatigue, and mental fogginess during the first few weeks. This is difficult to sustain over a long period of time, too. It’s better for quick weight loss.
Easiest Diets to Follow
- Mediterranean Diet
- Flexitarian Diet
- MIND Diet
The goal: The MIND marries the DASH and Mediterranean diets and focuses on foods that support brain health. It’s believed consuming leafy greens (7 1-cup servings weekly), nuts (snack most days), and berries (5 half-cup servings weekly) may lower a person’s risk of developing dementia or Alzheimer’s.
The pros: It’s nutritionally robust with no need to count calories, plus the fiber-rich foods keep you full. The plan also has plenty of recipes to follow.
The cons: Not a ton of guidance.
Get the full list here.
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